Headmaster, p.15
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       Headmaster, p.15

         Part #2 of Lessons From the Rack series by Tara Sue Me
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  sound?”

  A single tear ran down her cheek. “Like a really, really good idea.”

  He wiped away the tear. “Two reallys? Are pigs flying?”

  “Get me inside before your ego blows up anymore,” she said, and he was glad to hear a hint of laughter in her voice.

  He pushed her inside to where Andie and Fulton waited. Andie had volunteered to stay with Marie while she settled into a routine. She’d told Lennox at the hospital that she’d helped care for her grandmother while she was in high school. Marie had balked at first, but eventually agreed. Lennox had wanted to be the one to stay with her, but he knew she’d never allow that.

  It was probably for the best. At least until they were able to discuss what had happened and how they were going to move forward.

  • • •

  TWO WEEKS AFTER her release from the hospital, Marie was going batshit crazy. She was able to get around her apartment with crutches. Andie came by every afternoon to see her if she hadn’t already stopped by the main building. Even Lennox dropped in a time or two, but his visits were awkward and tension filled.

  Her problem was she didn’t have enough to do. Lennox sent over paperwork she could work on, but those tasks were mainly administrative and she finished them quickly. She had already taken care of everything she could do for the Holiday Ball, and she was seriously thinking about taking up knitting or something. Absolutely anything to keep herself occupied.

  Lennox came by the Sunday afternoon she was going through her books, trying to find one she hadn’t read three times already and kicking herself for not placing her online order sooner.

  “You know,” he said from the doorway. “They do have electronic e-readers now, or you can download a book straight to your phone. Wonderful thing, technology.”

  She glared at him. “I know that. I just don’t want to read an electronic book. I like the feel of paper on my fingers, the smell of a book.”

  “Just saying, you could get so many more if you’d—”

  “Succumb to the dark side?”

  He eyed the pile of books. “It’d be easier to carry, too.”

  She sighed. “Why are you here, Lennox?”

  “And a good day to you, as well.”

  Damn it, why did he have to be in a good mood? Why couldn’t he be pissy and dour like he’d always been in the past?

  “Look, I’m glad everything is great and wonderful in Lennox land, but here in my reality, I’m losing my mind.”

  He nodded and that’s when it hit her that he was up to something. He had that look in his eyes. God help her.

  “I’ve been thinking about that because I know the last few weeks have been rough on you.” He motioned her into the kitchen. “Let’s go sit and talk.”

  “I’m tired of sitting,” she said under her breath and, if he heard, he didn’t give any indication of it.

  He sat down and looked at her with such excitement for whatever his plan was, she sincerely hoped she liked it. Looks such as the one he wore now were rare and she’d hate to disappoint him.

  “You remember the plans I had made for the cottage?” he asked.

  “Yes.”

  “I’ve decided to move forward with the renovations.”

  She couldn’t help it, she smiled. The changes he’d proposed for the cottage were wonderful and she was so happy he was moving forward with them. More importantly, she knew Winnie would have loved them.

  “That’s great,” she said. “I think your idea is absolutely perfect for the cottage.”

  “I’m glad to hear you say that, because I actually would like for you to be involved.”

  She nodded. “Oh, sure. Anything you need, just let me know. I have tons of time.”

  He winced at that. She felt a little bad, simply because she knew he already blamed himself for the accident and now he’d probably feel like it was his duty to keep her occupied.

  “This should definitely keep you busy,” he said.

  “Do tell.”

  “I’d like for you to be in charge of the renovations. I can’t take care of everything that needs to be done and run the academy, too.” His eyes pleaded with her. “And truthfully, I don’t trust anyone else to oversee this other than you. Because you loved her, too.”

  She couldn’t speak for several seconds. He wanted her to be in charge?

  “Are you sure you want me?” she asked.

  “Yes, like I said, I trust you and you were like a sister to her. You knew her better than anyone and I don’t want the cottage merely renovated, I want it to have her touch. Only you can do that. Probably better than I can.”

  “Can I stay here or do I have to move to the mainland?”

  “You can work from here. No need to move off the island.”

  “Okay. I’ll do it.”

  Just saying the words made her feel better. She had a purpose again; she felt better than she had since before the accident.

  WINNIE’S JOURNAL

  What do you do when your entire relationship is built on a lie? I don’t know. I’m not who he thinks I am and I’m reminded of that every time I look in the mirror. Hell, every time I look at him.

  He doesn’t know. It’s so strange to me that he wouldn’t know. He for damn sure knows everything else. It baffles me how he doesn’t know this one thing that’s the most fundamental and important of all things. How is it he knows what I’m thinking, but he doesn’t know who I really am?

  CHAPTER

  Ten

  It didn’t take long for Mariela to see that Lennox wasn’t lying about the renovations keeping her busy. Between the red tape involved with getting the permits and near daily chats with the contractor, she felt like pulling her hair out.

  “Seriously,” she complained to Andie one afternoon a few weeks into the project. “Do you know how much time I spend following up with people who never get back to me? I mean, really? Who’s working for whom?”

  “I agree, it’s crazy.” Andie walked into Mariela’s living room, carrying a cup of coffee for each of them. “I recently fired a few distributors for the kitchen because they lacked any semblance of customer service.”

  Mariela’s phone rang, but she ignored it.

  “Do you need to get that?” Andie asked.

  “No, it was Lennox. He’s calling for his daily update.”

  “How are things going with him?”

  Mariela sighed. “It’s not. We talk about the cottage, but that’s it. Every time I try to change the subject or talk about us or what happened, he either has to leave or says we’ll talk later. And later never comes.”

  “He has to talk about it sometime.”

  “You would think.” Mariela took a sip of coffee. “When I told him I’d do this, I thought working on the cottage would give us time to talk and work things out. But it hasn’t. It’s the same as it’s always been.”

  “Hang in there. Men just need time. They’re not as smart as we are. It takes them longer to grasp things.” Andie nodded toward her leg. “How’s your leg?”

  Mariela forced her expression to remain neutral. “Good. I’m hoping I’ll be able to move to a boot instead of crutches before too long.”

  What she didn’t say was that with each day that passed, dancing seemed more and more out of reach. She hadn’t been dancing before the accident, why would after it be any different?

  Andie looked like she was going to say more, but a knock on the door interrupted her and she cocked an eyebrow instead. “You expecting someone?”

  “No.”

  “I’ll get it.” Andie walked to the front door and Mariela heard her. “What are you doing here, handsome?” Which told her it was Fulton.

  She didn’t hear his reply, but several seconds later, he appeared in the doorway to the living room, carrying a large box.

  “This came for you at the main building. I decided to bring it by since I knew I’d run into Andie.” Fulton looked around and Mariela suddenly realized what a mess her place
was. Thanks to the cottage project, her workspace extended far beyond her desk. Papers were strewn across the coffee table and piles lined the wall.

  “You can just leave it there,” she said.

  “What is it?” Andie asked, peering over her shoulder.

  “Some notebooks and stuff that the cottage crew found when they were working. I told them to ship it here.”

  She actually wanted to get her hands on the items before Lennox saw them. She wasn’t sure exactly what was in the box, but the last thing she wanted was for him to come across something and regress back into his dour funk again. She planned to look through them and get a feel for what they contained. Only then would she consider showing them to Lennox.

  Andie waited, clearly expecting Mariela to open the box. But for some reason she didn’t want to open it with people around. The things in the box belonged to Winnie and she didn’t want to share those things with anyone. At least not yet.

  “I’ll open it later,” Mariela said. “I need to see if I can get the contractor on the phone. I’ve been told there’s a small leak, but a leak is a leak and I’m learning small is relative.”

  Fulton set it down. “Do you need me to carry anything down to the main building?”

  “No, I’m good, thank you.” What she wanted was for both of them to leave so she could open it without curious eyes watching.

  Andie must have sensed her mood. She stood up and took Fulton’s hand with a smile. “Walk back with me? I have to get dinner started.”

  Mariela waited until the sound of their voices disappeared before turning around. The men at the cottage had placed everything in a cardboard moving box. With trembling fingers, she cut through the tape and lifted the top. Inside was a gray plastic storage bin. She lifted it out carefully, took a deep breath, and raised the lid.

  She thought it was a bit anticlimactic, because all she saw inside were papers and notebooks. Then she laughed at herself, because seriously, what had she expected to find?

  Shaking her head, she started taking out the papers. They didn’t appear to be anything of importance; most looked like old credit card statements. She couldn’t imagine the need for them so many years after Winnie’s death, and she put them in a pile to discard.

  Under the papers, she found notebook after notebook. She leaned back in her chair with a smile, flipping through them. Notebooks filled with sketches and drawings and ideas for paintings. She would put these aside for Lennox, he’d want to see them.

  She pulled a pad out of the bin and gasped. It was filled with sketches of Lennox. Mariela never knew Winnie to draw or paint people. She flipped the pages one by one, in awe of this unknown talent her friend had. The images captured his likeness to a fault. The slight tilt of his head and the tiny smirk on his lips.

  She wondered why Winnie never told her she did portraits and if Lennox knew. She ran her finger over one of them with a rare smile. Somehow, Winnie had captured the lightness and joy of the moment in his eyes. It was stunning. She wanted so badly to keep the pad to herself, but she didn’t want to withhold anything from Lennox.

  She set the pad aside and reached for the next item in the tub. This wasn’t a notebook or a pad, but a thick leather-bound journal. It was held closed by a leather band, and she debated whether or not to open it. It had a different feel about it. When she brushed her fingers across the cover, it was as if the secrets inside whispered to her.

  She looked over her shoulder and told herself she was being ridiculous. She was in her home. Alone. So why did she feel like someone was standing behind her?

  Guilt, she told herself. Survivor’s guilt. Guilt that Winnie had died when she crashed her car and Mariela had lived through her accident. Guilt that even after all these years, she still wanted Lennox.

  It was time to move on, though, and that meant letting go of everything. She untied the book and almost dropped it when she saw that it was indeed a journal. Winnie’s flowing script filled the pages, each one of them dated.

  She wouldn’t read it. It was personal and private. Mariela closed the journal, but didn’t set it aside. On second thought, why shouldn’t she read it? It couldn’t hurt Winnie.

  Maybe she’d just read one. Make sure it was what she thought it was.

  She flipped to a random page and started reading.

  I shouldn’t be doing this. Someone should stop me before I start something I can’t stop. But god help me, I don’t want to. I want him too much and I’ll do anything, not just to get him, but to keep him.

  I shouldn’t even argue with myself, I know I’ll do it. I’ve already told Marie that I wanted to talk to her. She doesn’t know what it’s about yet and won’t she be surprised when she finds out what I want.

  I wish I could see her face. . . .

  Mariela slammed the journal closed. She was not going to read this. She was not.

  She lasted three more minutes before she opened it to a different page, this time near the back.

  It’s getting worse. I can’t keep living this lie. I’m going to have to tell Lennox. I don’t know what he’ll do. And I’ll have to tell Marie. She’ll be so disappointed.

  Then I think, maybe it won’t be so bad for her. I can tell she likes Lennox. I should have let her have him in the first place. It was so selfish of me to insist on being something I’m not. But I love him and to this day when he calls me his Winnie girl, I still go mushy inside.

  If I could just go back and do it over. I’d do it all so differently.

  But I didn’t. And now I’m left with a mess.

  She closed the journal again, not understanding what she was reading. What was Winnie hiding? And what did she mean that Mariela would be disappointed? She didn’t want to read anymore, it was too private and it hurt too much.

  Maybe she’d give the journal to Lennox and let him decide what to do with it. She should ask him exactly what happened between him and Winnie.

  God, that had been a horrible day.

  • • •

  SHE HEADED HOME early from the ballet academy. The owner had a family emergency so she’d closed at noon. Mariela didn’t know what to do with the unexpected free hours. What she should do was clean her apartment, but where was the fun in that?

  What she wanted to do was shop, but until she got her paycheck, she was too strapped to spend any extra money. Maybe she should call and see if Winnie wanted to meet for coffee. It had been months since they’d had serious girl talk and lately Winnie had seemed a bit depressed.

  Honestly, she didn’t know what could be bringing her down. As far as Mariela could see, Winnie had it made. She was a successful artist, she was in the prime of her life, and she had Lennox as a Dom. Seriously? What more could she want?

  Mariela parked at a nearby café and reached for her phone to call Winnie when it rang with her ringtone. She couldn’t help but smile. Winnie must have read her mind. They were always doing stuff like that.

  “Hey, girl,” Mariela said, answering the phone. “I was just getting ready to call you. What’s up?”

  The sniffles on the other end told her something was wrong.

  “Winnie? Are you okay? What’s wrong?”

  “I can’t . . . I can’t . . .” Her voice broke up as the sniffles grew into sobs.

  “Where are you? Where’s Lennox?”

  But her questions only made her friend cry harder.

  “Winnie?”

  A horn sounded from the other end of the line.

  “Tell me you aren’t driving.” Mariela’s heart pounded. “Winnie, you better not be driving. You pull over right now or I’ll personally ask Lennox to spank your ass.”

 
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